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Gamecock Basketball: Carolina faces challenging SEC opener in Gainesville

South Carolina basketball draws a difficult opening night match-up in their conference opener against Billy Donovan's Florida Gators.

Brenton Williams hopes to continue his strong senior season in Gainesville on Wednesday.
Brenton Williams hopes to continue his strong senior season in Gainesville on Wednesday.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Gamecocks went down to Gainesville, they were pummeled mercilessly by the Gators, a 75-36 blowout that somehow wasn't as close as the score made it appear.

Twelve months later, the Gamecocks bring eight new faces with them to take on the 10th ranked Gators, winners of 11 of their 13 non-conference contests, including wins over Kansas and Memphis. It will take a terrific effort for Carolina to have a chance to win on Wednesday night, but given the improvement in Carolina over the past year (and a bit of a drop-off from the Elite Eight Gator squad from 2012-13), the Gamecocks enter the opener with a much better chance of putting together an effort that should result in a far more competitive game than last season's contest.

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When UF has the ball
USC Off. Florida Def. Edge Florida Off. USC Def. Edge
235 55 UF BIG eFG% 104 75 PUSH
221 22 UF BIG TO% 133 91 PUSH
11 91 USC BIG OReb% 16 258 UF BIG
102 17 UF BIG FTR 90 327 UF BIG

When USC has the ball When UF has the ball
USC Off. Florida Def. Florida Off. USC Def.
68.8 FT% 65.9
45.6 42.5 2P% 49.7 47.3
36.5 3P% 36.4
24.2 32.6 3PA% 27.6 34.2

The Gators and Gamecocks actually match up relatively well when the Gators have the ball in some areas, but then you keep looking - the Gators hammer the offensive glass and get to the line, and Carolina has a tendency to let teams get away with doing both. While the zone defense has helped South Carolina prevent dribble-drive penetration from some teams, it's weakness has been allowing rebounds on the defensive end. Given how the Gators shun 3PAs, it'll be absolutely imperative for Carolina to stop the Gators on the inside. Florida seems primed to cause Carolina to pick its poison on the defensive end (play zone and give up rebounds or play man and let the Gators into the paint, running up the foul trouble), and it's not clear that Carolina can do enough to stop Florida consistently.

On the other end, Florida presses its advantages in the other two areas - shooting and turnovers. The Gators force turnovers on over 22% of defensive possessions, and the Gamecocks hand it over at almost a 20% rate, so ball security could end the Gamecocks night before it starts (its two worst offensive nights this season came in games with their two worst turnover rates - against Oklahoma State and Boise State).

Carolina also needs to figure out how to score the ball on its end, since it may not have as many extra possessions from offensive rebounds as it normally does given the Gators' efforts on the glass. The Gamecocks shoot 24.2% of their FGAs from 3, one of the lowest percentages in the nation. Given how weakly they shoot the ball from 2, it seems Carolina needs to figure out another way to score. Since Florida doesn't put teams on the line too often, it may need to adjust its offensive strategy to take more 3PAs. With five players (Shaw, Williams, Thornwell, Notice, and Johnson) shooting over 34% from downtown, it's not that Carolina doesn't have the players who can hit shots from outside, it's that the offense chooses not to take them. That's a strategy that may need to be re-assessed on this night.

For Florida, the man to watch will be small forward Casey Prather, who consistently makes and takes a high percentage of shots (a 61.4% eFG while taking 26% of the Gators' shots while on the court). He also gets to the line at a terrific rate (a 59.6 free throw rate (FTA/FGA), which rates top 200 in the nation. He'll be a total handful for whoever draws that assignment.

In the backcourt, sophomore Michael Frazier shoots nearly 50% from 3PA, which puts his eFG at 66.8%, one of the top 20 in the nation. His backcourt mates, senior Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill, contribute primarily through assisting on nearly a quarter of the buckets taken while they're on the court while turning the ball over on less than 20% of possessions. That level of ball control keeps the Gator offense humming.

In the post, senior Patric Young is good offensively and a nightmare defensively - he blocks almost 5% of 2PAs (264th in the nation) and creates steals on 2.5% of possessions he plays (top 500). He rotates in the two post positions about evenly with Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith, neither of whom create a ton offensively relative to their teammates (though Finney-Smith shoots over a quarter of the time he has the chance, which doesn't seem warranted given his production).

For the Gamecocks, Brenton Williams will look to continue his run of fine play , as he has strung together four straight games of at least 20 minutes and 12 points, while adding nine assists against only two turnovers. Joining him in the backcourt will likely be Duane Notice starting his seventh straight game, where he'll look to continue his fine offensive performances of late, though he'll also have to cut down on turnovers, a problem that once seemed solved but creeped back up again in his last outing against SC State.

In the frontcourt, the Gamecocks will need someone to step up and defend against the Gators interior presence. Demetrius Henry and Michael Carrera both post block rates over 4% (the former 4.4%, the latter 7.1%, both good for top 300 in the nation), but each commits over five fouls for 40 minutes played, which limits how effective they can be on the interior. Kacinas, Ringer, and Chatkevicius will all need to step up to fill in for minutes these two may miss due to fouls, though each of them brings foul troubles of his own (the lowest fouls per 40 minutes rate of the three is Kacinas at 4.9, while his compatriot posts a 6.7 and Ringer logs a shocking 9.0).

The Gamecocks have come a long way in the last 12 months. They'll get a chance to show themselves and the Gators just how far they've come on Wednesday evening. The game tips off at 7pm ET and can be watched on Comcast SportsSouth or ESPN3, depending on your location and cable provider.